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Posted at 2:25 PM ET, 12/20/2010

Brazil's gritty favelas through the eyes of Petra Barth

By Jessica Dawson

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Of all the intimacies shared by the Brazilian trash pickers featured in "Waste Land," artist Vik Muniz's complicated documentary film about the people who sort through Rio's largest dump, it was the pickers' willingness to show us inside their homes that intrigued me the most.

And what complicated homes they were, so foreign to my American eyes. Here, sheets separated bedrooms from bathrooms from the outdoors; mattresses covered the floors and the very notions of privacy was moot.

With that complicated portrait in mind, I headed over the Organization of American States exhibition of documentary works by Petra Barth, who devoted a good portion of her works to a favela bordering Rio.


Called Cantagalo, the shantytown abuts one of Rio's poshest suburbs. Barth's pictures bring us inside jerry-rigged homes where scrap sofas look out from windowless rooms and daily life is improvised and contingent.

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"The favelas have been occupied by drug-trafficking gangs and have become the setting for battles with the police or between the gangs themselves, making life hell for the honest, poor people who live there," Barth reports.

The photographer shot these pictures in 2008. They're part of a larger project called "Al Margen" ("Living on the Margin") that she shot over the last six years. Her sobering exhibition is worth a visit, if only to temper the holiday shopping frenzy. It's on view Monday-Friday 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. through January 7 at the Terrace Level Gallery in the OAS's main building 1889 F Street, NW.


By Jessica Dawson  | December 20, 2010; 2:25 PM ET
Categories:  Contemporary Art, Films, Jessica Dawson, Reviews  
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